Tag Archive: scientists

Quiet Salish Sea lets scientists study endangered killer whales

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I saw this article about scientists studying killer whales in the Salish Sea, the first question I had was, “Where is the Salish Sea?” A quick online search revealed that it’s the complex set of waterways near Canada’s Vancouver Island, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Georga and Johnstone Strait separating the island from the mainland. Increasing noise levels have been harming killer whales there, who rely on sound for communication and for echolocating food.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there has been a 30% decrease in commercial shipping traffic into the Port of Vancouver from China. Decreases in other marine traffic have led to a noise reduction of about 75%.

The Salish Sea is murky due to sediments carried from the Simon Fraser River. Killer whales can see 5-10 meters in the water, but can find prey at greater distances and can communicate with others in their pod for kilometers.

Killer whales are also very social and are in almost constant communication with other members of their pods. But shipping noise, which has been doubling almost every decade for three or four decades, interferes with their communication.

We hope the COVID-19 lockdown’s quiet will allow scientists to learn more about killer whales, and that when marine traffic resumes, steps will be taken to make the waters quieter than they have been.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Is the mystery of “The Hum” solved?

Photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxi licensed under CC BY 2.0

News.com.au reports that scientists believe they have discovered the source of the mysterious hum that “can drive [some] people to the brink of madness.” For those who can hear it, “‘The Hum‘ can cause sleepless nights, stress and nosebleeds and is described as a relentless ‘kind of torture’ with no explanation.” Various theories have been bandied about as to the source–submarines, gas pipes, and even mating fish–but in the end the explanation is far less fanciful. Scientists Fabrice Ardhuin, Lucia Gualtieri, and Eleonore Stutzmann believe that the “microseismic activity, recorded everywhere on Earth, is largely due to ocean waves.” So how do ocean waves make the hum? The scientists postulate that “the pressure of the waves on the sea-floor causes the earth to vibrate like a bell and creates a sound that is heard more by some than others.”

Of course the answer won’t bring relief to those who suffer from the hum (known as “hummers”), but it may help them from being misdiagnosed with tinnitus.

 

 

Scientists are learning to decode the sounds of icebergs

Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura, reports about what scientists have learned from “Listening to Icebergs’ Loud and Mournful Breakup Songs.” Laskow writes that seven years after the largest iceberg broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, “the largest remaining chunk floated out into the South Pacific where, in the warmer water, it began to disintegrate.”  And for the next year, “the ocean was noisier than usual.”  Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had suspended hydrophones underwater and they “were picking up strange signals.” Interestingly, the scientists “didn’t even know that icebergs made noise,” says Haru Matsumoto, an ocean engineer at NOAA who has studied these sounds.”  But now they do and they measure “the extent to which those sounds contribute to the noise of the ocean,” because “the sounds of ice could help them understand the behavior and breakup of icebergs and ice shelves as the poles warm up.”

Click this link to hear what the scientists are hearing.

The world sounds different than it did a century ago

and it’s not for a good reason. Claire Asher, BBC, reports on how climate change and animal extinctions have altered the way our world sounds.  Asher writes that human activity is changing our natural soundscape irreversibly:

In 2015, a US team of scientists and engineers reported that the loudest sound in some waters now comes from millions of tiny bubbles, which are released by melting glaciers and icebergs. In the fjords of Alaska and Antarctica, the average noise level is now over 100 decibels – louder than any ocean environment recorded before.

And it is more than our oceans that are affected.  Asher notes that “natural spaces are now polluted with human-made noises. As we change forests into farms and drive species to extinction, we are fundamentally changing how our world sounds.”

Click the first link to read this interesting, if depressing, article.

Link via @jeaninebotta.